I was looking through old posts, intending to do a blast from the past — it was one of those nights in which I engaged in massive unarmed combat with the bed clothes. No, I don’t know why. I know things HURT — and I came across a post where I talked back to the Five For Fighting Song, Superman.
This is something I do if caught in the grocery store and exposed to stupid songs. Like, you know, Imagine. “Imagine you could think beyond conventional leftist utopia, wouldn’t that be great?”
No, the neighbors haven’t had me committed yet, but that’s because we’ve been living downtown and I used to go to the store in whatever I was wearing for writing, (not pajamas. I draw the line at pajamas) so they probably thought I was homeless and were afraid I’d kill them.
So, Superman. It annoys me because “it’s not easy to be me” is a twelve year old’s attitude. We’ve all been there. We get everything handed to us, more or less (okay some of us less than others, but still by and large things that twelve year olds don’t have to worry about in the first world include keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and clothes that cover your behind.) So you worry about other things: the fact you don’t fit in. The fact someone looked at you funny. The fact that your growing body doesn’t obey your commands as it should, so you’re clumsy and a little odd.
If you’re one of the blessed children who is graceful and popular or at least if your parents have enough money and lack of sense to put you in a place where they praise everything you do to the heavens, you’ll still worry, because some girl got the attention of the boy you liked. Because some boy looked at you wrong.
It gets smaller and smaller, but you’ll still find causes for worry. Microaggressions, if you will.
This is because as an adolescent you have neither the emotional apparatus nor the life experience to see that you are not special, that man is a worrying animal and that nothing in life is perfect. You are just a kid trying to fit in, and all your experiences and all your knowledge is self-referent. It looks like the rest of humanity knows where they belong and what they’re doing and you’re odd man out. Hence the lament “It’s not easy being me.”
Then you get a little better at doing the everyday things, and you sort of wake up and look around. And sometimes life smacks you in the face with a wet fish, and you realize your parents have been trying to keep the family together and a roof over your head while the regime of the day has frozen ALL their assets including their checking account, and your brother, whom you’re used to considering one of the blessed children because he always was a straight A student and had a group of friends from childhood, has been tutoring all his free time from his college classes and turning the money over to mom without a complaint so she can buy food for the table. And here you’ve been resenting that it’s fish everyday because you hate fish; and you have been upset you don’t get money to buy a croissant at mid-morning, which excludes you from the cool kids trip to the coffee shop.
Suddenly you realize it’s not easy being you, but oh, my heavens, it’s much harder to be everyone else.
And you grow a bit more and realize your dad gave up his dream of becoming an artist for a career that he didn’t like because he had a family to support. And you realize how well your mom does what she does considering what she battles every day.
And you start seeing all the times they didn’t tell you they were too tight on money, but gave you the price of a movie, because they wanted you to be happy. And all the times they went without something near-essential so you could have something nice.
And then, somewhere along the line, you realize that all the grace and favors received come with an obligation. That it’s up to you to do something nice for THEM, to bring unexpected joy to their lives, because they work so hard and they love you. And the same with your friends. Instead of worrying that you are having such a hard time, you notice your friend broke with her boyfriend and is trying to be brave, but depressed, and you blow all the money you made that month on tutoring to take her out to a movie about dance and dinner and to be silly and walk in the rain like you did when you were little.
Congratulations. You’ve found the key to adulthood and arguably to happiness — when you stop obsessing over your own wrongs and difficulties and start trying to make others’ lives easier.
It’s still not easy. And yeah, you’ll still have times when you feel sorry for yourself. Or if you know you have the tendency to feel sorry for yourself, and overcompensate, you can “be an unintentional suicide” which means you don’t go to the doctor when you should, because you’re concentrating so much on your family, and when you do it’s too late. Arguably my friend Alan died from that.
But you realize it’s not easy for anyone. We don’t live in an earthly paradise where every tear shall be wiped away. The most blessed of us will lose friends and pets and family to death. The most blessed of us will get ill now and then and not feel so good. The most blessed of us will have something they fight against, some sense of inferiority and loss.
That is why almost all major religions hold out the promise of a paradise where that won’t happen. Where due to a transformational event, you won’t suffer from the human condition.
Anyway, remembering that song, and the thoughts that went with it, reminded me of a note a friend sent to me last night “Incoming president of MWA says that it’s very hard for minorities to make it in writing.”
Well… yes, it is.
It is very hard for ANYONE to make it in writing. Frankly, the fact I could tan and was darker than spun gold before a life indoors and age robbed me of some of my melanin (could be worse. My husband now tends to look paper-white.) had far less to do with how difficult it was than knowing NO ONE in a field that was clannish and closed. I mean, I didn’t even know organized fandom existed. I didn’t know about going to conventions and meeting editors. For the love of bugs, I didn’t know where to mail stories so I sent them to the publishing address.
But even that — even in a field where they look at you with suspicion if you come out of nowhere — was relatively little impairment, compared to struggling with the writing itself.
Because we use words every day we don’t realize how hard writing is. Words are not the craft of the writer. Emotions are. I am editing a book written while in indifferent health and I swear I made EVERY POSSIBLE ROOKIE mistake, which means I have to back engineer the book with what I know. It’s hard, but it also shows how much I learned.
And like all human animals, you only learn when not learning becomes too painful. So I’m measuring every step I took along the way: making the books accessible; making the characters interesting; making it internally consistent; worldbuilding. Etc. ad nauseum.
Even in the present age when you can publish yourself, capturing an audience is hard and will require not just skull sweat but the awareness you’re not as good as other people.
The worst thing we can do for beginners is teach them that the sense of inferiority and of being held out they have is attributable to anything other than their own lack of craft and experience (and the occasional lack of kiss from lady luck which can only be compensated for by writing a lot — ie. buying more lottery tickets.)
Tell the twelve year old that he has the hardest lot in life possible and that everyone else should cater to him, and he’ll never realize what other people are struggling with: he’ll never emerge from his cocoon of self obsession and resentment.
Tell the beginning writer that the reason their “masterpieces” aren’t received with glad cries is their sex/preference/color and they will latch on to that. It’s easier to resent than to admit your work has flaws. And it’s easier to scream in affront than to work at fixing those flaws.
And then you go through life inventing conspiracies against you and screaming micro aggression and you never become the writer you could be.
And that — that truly — is an injustice done to you. But you’ll never know.
Your wings have been clipped, but all you’ll know is you sit in your soiled nest talking about how someone else is holding you down and you’re perfect the way you are.
It’s not easy being you — but the potential great books never written cry out against those who tried to make it easy on you and succeeded only in infantilizing you and crippling you.
You imagine everyone else had it easier. You don’t see the years of struggle and lonely, painful failure. So every little stumble makes you more bitter and more determined to never change.
And the field is poorer.